We are very happy to welcome Cornelia Grey to the Smoocher’s Voice blog today. Cornelia’s latest novel Circus of the Damned is available on Riptide Publishing. Circus of the Damned is the second novel in the A Deal with the Devil universe.
Cornelia Grey is a creative writing student fresh out of university, with a penchant for fine arts and the blues. Born and raised in the hills of Northern Italy, where she collected her share of poetry and narrative prizes, Cornelia moved to London to pursue her studies.
After graduating with top grades, she is now busy with internships: literary agencies, publishing houses, and creative departments handling book series, among others. She also works as a freelance translator.
She likes cats, knitting, performing in theatre, going to museums, collecting mugs, and hanging out with her grandma. When writing, she favors curious, surreal stories, steampunk, and mixed-genre fiction. Her heroes are always underdogs, and she loves them for it.
Connect with Cornelia Grey:
Jodi: Thank you Cornelia for joining us on the blog. Tell us a little about yourself and why you decided to write in the m/m genre.
Cornelia: Hello everyone, and thank you so much for having me here today.
I'm currently writing to you from Tokyo! After spending the past six years bouncing between my hometown in Italy and London, where I was attending university, I decided to take advantage of the freedom of movement granted by having a job that I can carry with me anywhere – as long as I have a laptop and WiFi! - and the fact that I don't need to attend classes in order to work on my PhD. Japan is my third stop, after some time spent working in Wales and Spain. While for the moment the grand plan is to settle down and work at the university once my research is done, I thought it would be nice to try living in a few different places first!
I have been writing m/m since I was a teenager – long before I knew it was an actual genre or that other people were writing it beside myself. It wasn't a conscious decision... it just came naturally. Those were the stories I wanted to read, and there was nobody writing them, especially not in Italian (back in the day I still barely spoke English!). So, I just set about writing them for myself. I was really glad to finally meet the m/m community and, beyond that, books that feature different genders and orientations. I eagerly wait for the day they will be widely available and accepted in the realm of mainstream publishing, and I hope to give my little contribution to this progress!
Jodi: I was intrigued by the plot of Circus of the Damned and the characters. The setting and concept of the circus is unusual. What was your inspiration for the idea of the actual circus of the Damned?
Cornelia: As with most of my stories, it wasn't one specific source of inspiration, but a few different elements seemed to come together just right. I knew I wanted to write a story set in a circus; I was thinking about an urban magician, scraping by in the alleys of a gritty metropolis; I had in mind a dark, gloomy, Victorian-esque atmosphere; and, finally, I realized that Farfarello, the cocky devil from Devil at the Crossroads, still had a few tricks to play...
The pieces fell together smoothly. I don't remember exactly the moment I decided it, but soon, I knew that a creepy circus of damned performers was just perfect for this novel!
Jodi: This is not the first book you have written with a circus at the core of the story. Do you have an appreciation for circuses or do you find them perfect settings for mayhem?
Cornelia: To be honest, I've only been to the circus twice, when I was very little, and I don't really remember anything about it; and I'm very critical about the presence of animals in actual circuses. But, as a child, I was always fascinated by tales of nomadic artists, travelling with their caravans across the country, without a place to call home. Often, they were shunned by the 'proper' citizens and the authorities, both religious and secular, with nobody to rely on but each other.
As a grown-up, I'm aware that such a hard life was hardly the romanticized adventure my beloved books made it out to be; but the fascination with the gothic atmosphere of Victorian circuses remains, so I decided to manipulate reality a little, and build the Circus of the Damned according to my own rules. Instead of being handled by an unscrupulous ringmaster who exploits the unlucky 'freaks' for his gain – as was all too often the case in reality – the Circus of the Damned became a sanctuary of sorts for its odd performers, who find in it a refuge from the hostile outside world. And with such a crew of colorful outcasts, whose dark past and struggles we are not privy to, the Circus truly is a barrel of gunpowder, just waiting for a spark...
Jodi: Have there always been the same number of performers at the circus? Is that part of the original deal with Farafello?
Cornelia: The idea is that yes, the number of performers never changes: the original troupe agreed to the deal with the ringmaster, and the new performers joined one by one when needed, and it's hard enough to find one replacement at a time. As a matter of fact, I would like eventually to write extensively about the former members of the Circus of the Damned and how the deal originally came about. I had the chance to mention a couple of them in the novel, but I know they have much more to tell...
However, it is technically possible to add more souls to the deal – the devil won't say no to an extra soul or two! - and that is what happened when Bobbie and Ethel joined, the young conjoined twins with a talent for music.
Jodi: You mention in a recent interview that “Farfarello is an odd devil, a trickster of sorts.” What was your inspiration for his character?
Cornelia: I have been interested in tricksters for a few years: as a matter of fact, I have already written a book featuring a kitsune, the fox trickster from Japanese mythology. For the past couple of years, I have been researching the figure of the trickster in Italian folklore, especially in the Commedia dell'Arte, the traditional form of Italian street theater (as a matter of fact, I've been toying with the idea of writing a story set in Venice next, featuring Harlequin and his colourful associates...).
I borrowed the name Farfarello from Dante's Inferno in the Divine Comedy: he's part of the gang of devils called the Malebranche, who inhabit the eight circle of Hell. In Italian legends, devils often have a different slant than the traditional Christian one. Rather than plain evil and scary, they can be complex, ironic, perplexing, even ridiculous at times. They seem eminently human characters, much closer to the challenges of mankind than the more aloof, detached angels.
Farfarello is still very attached to the human world: while it's late for him to change how he behaved in life, he never misses a chance to meddle in other people's lives, nudging and stringing along and teaching the occasional lesson when he gets the chance. Tricksters are fond of toying with the arrogant and prideful, and he is no exception.
However, despite his centuries of experience, he's nowhere near as omniscient or omnipotent as a supernatural creature should be, and he still gets a lot more involved than he would like. Looks like, all too often, it's the flawed, young humans that end up teaching him a lesson or two...
Jodi: Jesse has a lot of responsibility. When we meet him, he seems so conflicted and tired. What has motivated him over the decades to keep going on this journey?
Cornelia: Originally, I had written a lot of material about Jesse's past – his story, the original deal, his relationship with Farfarello, how the Circus of the Damned was born... but eventually I decided to cut it, leaving only teasing hints of information here and there. Jesse's past is a whole other novel in itself, and this was not his story – this was Gilbert's.
Jesse wasn't alone when he decided to seek out the devil. He had a small gang of friends, hardened by life on the streets, starved and angry at the world that rejected them. Their original desire for a safe shelter was darkened with that anger: they wanted a revenge of sorts, and the promise of glory under the limelight of the Circus was all too tempting.
When Jesse traded in his soul, he was a very different person than the one we meet when Gilbert joins the Circus of the Damned – a dark, angry, somewhat misguided person who we might not necessarily like. As the years went by, he grew, he matured, and his motivation changes as he begins to value the Circus mostly as a safe haven for the strays they took in along the way. But as he grows wearier and more tired, doubts begin to creep in. The Circus might be a refuge for the performers in this life... but what will happen to them when the devil comes to collect his due?
Jodi: Were all of the circus performers as skeptical and resistant as Gilbert when they were first drafted?
Cornelia: Not all of them, no. I actually have taken a lot of notes about the backstories of the other performers – what their lives were like before they found the circus, what hardships they had to endure. I won't lie, a few of their stories are quite brutal – the world doesn't take kindly to 'freaks', as proven by the accounts of the lives of real circus members from the past. However, in the end I chose to lighten the tone of the book a little, and the darkness of these backstories was omitted. I still have the notes saved, and I might write them down at some point and release them as a bonus freebie.
Mr. Humphreys, for example, had an especially hard time, and was therefore very relieved to be found by the circus, after a moment of sheer terror and mistrust at the beginning. Hugo, instead, stubborn and temperamental, reacted with fury and was a force to be reckoned with for a while, even attempting to set the circus on fire on one memorable occasion...
Jodi: What was your inspiration for Rueben’s character? He seems to be the personification of evil.
Cornelia: I'm afraid my 'bad guys' will be forever influenced by the mafia that plagues Italy. It is one of the faces of evil in this country, and I grew up reading about their criminal activities and the efforts of the people to break free: needless to say, I feel very strongly about the topic, and my understanding of evil has been shaped by it.
Reuben is much like any mafia boss. He has no empathy, and no regard for anyone but himself and his interests. People – including his associates – are nothing more than tools to be discarded once they are no longer useful. This perception might sound two-dimensional to some, especially considering how the mafia has been at times romanticized in foreign movies, portraying conflicted, compelling characters: but in Italy, there is nothing to romanticize, and no deeper layers to be found. There is naked greed, and complete lack of empathy, no mercy: and no excuses whatsoever to be made.
Jodi: Gilbert makes the ultimate romantic gesture at the end of the book. Will he tell Jesse what he has done? Will there be more books in this series?
Cornelia: I took quite a lot of notes about the scene in which Gilbert would reveal his decision to Jesse, but I decided to leave it off-screen. It would be a very, very long conversation, there would be yelling, and it would by no means be all: it was clear that Jesse wouldn't let the matter drop for quite some time – after all, he has quite the temper!
But the conflict and drama were finally over for the Circus of the Damned, and I wanted to close the story as they finally enjoyed some well deserved peace and quiet: it wasn't the time to open a brand new can of worms. For the moment, that conversation will have to remain in your imagination... and in my notebook :)!
There will indeed be more books in this series, but they will not be precisely sequels. The first story in the series – Devil at the Crossroads – and The Circus of the Damned are stand-alone stories, even set in different universes and belonging to different genres: Farfarello and his deals are the red thread that connects them as he travels between planes of existence, meddling around in the characters' lives.
I have a few plans for upcoming Deal with a Devil books. One will feature a steampunk inventor in his mansion high on the mountains; another might be set in an alternative Venice at the time of the plague; and who knows where Farfarello might travel next...?
Circus of the Damned
Magician Gilbert Blake has spent his entire life conning drunkards in the seediest pubs in the darkest towns, careful to hide the true depths of his power. But when he spends a little too much time in Shadowsea and the infamous slumlord Count Reuben gets wind of his abilities, hiding within the Circus of the Damned may be Gilbert’s only chance at survival.
But there’s more to the Circus than meets the eye. Every time a performer dies, a new one must take his place, or the entire circus suffers the consequences. And while the handsome ringmaster Jesse isn’t one to coerce unwilling performers into giving up their souls to the devil, a recent death in their ranks makes Gilbert exactly what they need.
Yet the longer Gilbert stays with the Circus, the more danger he seems to bring them. Being with Jesse is more than Gilbert could have hoped for, but as Count Reuben’s men continue to search for Gilbert and the Circus loses another performer, they all face running out of time long before the Devil claims his due.
Gaslamp Fortnight: A Steampunk Book Tour – October 27th – November 7th
Authors L.A. Witt, Alexis Hall, and Cornelia Grey come together on a Steampunk book tour to celebrate the releases of Precious Metals, Prosperity, and Circus of the Damned.
Join us on adventures through the lawless, untamed, kraken-infested skies! Trek the snowy wilds of the Klondike in the company of a Mountie! Visit a soul-stealing circus where entertainment is at your own risk! Riptide's Gaslamp Fortnight will tempt you with the steampunk and gaslamp worlds of Cornelia Grey, Alexis Hall, and L.A. Witt.
And Gaslamp Fortnight is featuring a fabulous giveaway! Comment on the tour stops for a chance to win a $250 gift certificate to Harlots and Angels Steampunk Corsetry and get your own custom corset or personalized steampunk gear.
$250 gift certificate to Harlots and Angels Steampunk Corsetry and get your own custom corset or personalized steampunk gear. Each new post you comment on earns you an entry into the drawing, so be sure to check out the rest of the tour schedule too!
Harlots and Angels Bio
Hello I’m Sharon Ince and I own Harlots and Angels. We are a UK based company that creates unusual sewing and crafting patterns, clothing, corsetry, props and accessories with a wide range of themes from Steampunk, Sci-Fi, Victorian, Gothic and Burlesque.
We have produced work for a large diversity of clients, including The Disney Corporation, the BBC costuming department, Sky TV, Working Title films as well as several Hollywood production companies and local theatre and film productions.
I have always loved to design and I’m self-taught. In fact I started at the early age of about 5 years old and have never stopped. I love to work with leather, sew natural fabrics, sculpt, and build my house with stone and wood; though my real passion is to design.
When I am starting out on a new design the hours fly by and I’m lost in the perfect bliss of experimenting, mathematical calculation, followed by the thrill of seeing the idea become reality.
My love of Gothic literature, mad inventors and scientists and all things Victorian has always filtered through my thoughts and designs, so when I first discovered the emerging Steampunk community some years ago many of my creations found their family niche.